It's frustrating to know your car isn't running as efficiently as it could be, but not knowing what you can do to make it better. You don't know how serious the issue is until you decode what's going on, and even if it isn't something crucial, leaving it unaddressed might cause bigger problems down the road. At the same time, a diagnostic at a garage can be over $100, and it might only reveal a small replacement of a valve or a single sensor you could handle at home. Luckily, there are other options to help you decode your car's distress signals, like your local auto parts store. If your check engine light is on and you want to know which component triggered it, the store you go to for basics like oil filters and batteries can usually also tell you what your diagnostic code is, and from there it's easy to tell what it means.
What About Online Lookup?
Many newer ECM units, those made in the last decade to decade and a half, do not have a method of accessing diagnostic code readouts without attaching a diagnostic unit. For a time, it was common to build a signal code that could be activated and then parsed as a series of flashing lights, but as ECM units became more sophisticated and engines placed greater demand on them, the industry shifted to the current method. That means you can look up the numbers for diagnostic codes and what parts they pertain to for any given make and model, but to get your code, you'll need the right equipment. That's where you basically have three options.
- Buy your own diagnostic tools
- Go in to a garage and pay for a diagnosis
- Visit the local auto store where you get your engine oil
If you pick the right auto parts store, your diagnostic code can be pulled for free and easily referenced against the car's make and model to pull up the list of possible replacement parts you might need. That's possible due to advanced VIN lookup features coded into the search parameters that help point you at the right part. If you're using a home unit, you will want to find the auto part site that lets you do the same thing online that they'd do to pull up your parts in-store.
Picking the Right Parts Store
There's a possibility your check engine light is going to point to a repair that takes equipment you don't have at home. That's why bringing your car to an auto parts store that doesn't have its own repair shop can be a risky proposition, especially if the light is blinking. Blinking check engine displays represent a more urgent problem than steadily lit ones. On the other hand, using a fix finding diagnostic tool from a store that provides the service for free and has an in-house shop means being able to access your full range of options for solving the problem in one place, making it easier for you to choose the right option for your time and money.